Leather Ethics: Civility And Incivility in The Scene
Author: Chris M © 2002
Used With Author(s) Permission
Due to the size of this article, it has been split into fourpages. At the bottom of each page will be a text link that says the next page's number (Page Two, or Page Three etc.)
BACKGROUND AND PREFACE
the pieces I've written, none has prompted more visceral reaction than
the one you are about to read. My piece on civility and incivility in
the scene, first published in the Black Rose Petal and Thorn in the spring
of 1998, has drawn both the most praise and the most hostility of anything
I have written to date. When I wrote it, I was mad as hell, and gravely
concerned for my community. Black Rose had just completed its tenth anniversary
celebration, the first of the now annual bashes we throw in suburban Washington,
a splendid time had been had by most, and we were all feeling flush with
pride. But all was not well in old D.C. BR insiders had always boasted
how well its core of volunteers worked together, but as I came to be a
member of that set, I saw trouble brewing. There most definitely was an
inner circle. Help, ideas and people from outside that circle were often
more than unwelcome; they were regarded as an affront. The massive tenth
anniversary festival became a catalyst. Some who had worked hard felt
disrespected and unappreciated. There were intimations of money being
stolen by organizers, a long-standing Black Rose conspiracy theory. Rumormongering
reached levels verging on paranoia. And there was more open hostility
in the talk than I had ever heard before.
In the board election six months later, all hell broke loose. Accusatory gossip reached all time highs. Four incumbents - two who had served on the board for almost a decade - refused to run. It was at this time I became aware of what I started calling "the body count" - the alarming number of once active BR volunteers who were no longer at private parties, at BR socials, or the Tuesday night meetings. It was kind of spooky. As if they had died dishonorable deaths.
Over the next contentious year, three board members would quit, quickly joining the ranks of the disappeared: good, enthusiastic volunteers who had once believed in, and worked hard for the club, passed from the inner circle to oblivion, essentially unmourned. It was in this climate that I wrote the first cut of the civility piece, an article focusing on interpersonal conduct in our community, and on just how bad things had. Without naming names or citing specific incidents I put forth a simple proposition: Us SM types don't treat each other as well as we could or probably ought to. Later, I expanded the article to include some experiences of my friend Lady Medora of the late, great New Orleans Power Exchange, and have recently expanded it again. I have been blown away by the passionate responses I have received from individuals and groups from Sidney to Main to Berlin. Indecent and unkind interpersonal behavior seems to be a problem virtually everywhere SM is practiced. Hopefully, by shining a hard honest light on our sometime bad behavior we can better understand what causes it, and how to reduce the intolerance, vindictiveness, harsh judgment, and hypocrisy we sometimes encounter in the scene. If enough of us strive to make the SM scene a more tolerant, more friendly, and safer place for people to explore their inner fantasies, we will surely be successful.
THE CIVILITY CRISIS
It isn't hard to imagine a universe where this kind of behavior never occurred at all. Aggression, power, and consent, to say nothing of etiquette, are concepts SM folk deal with all the time. The BDSM community has made huge strides in developing and documenting a wide variety of safe SM practices, protocols, and standards for negotiation and play. But the bickering, bitchiness and backstabbing goes on nearly unabated. The 1998 Black Rose election cycle became a virtual demolition derby of friendships over seemingly trivial issues. TES went through a similar bloodbath several years earlier in the wake of their 25th anniversary celebration. And many small groups have closed, not because of legal persecution, fiscal mismanagement, or lack of membership, but from jealously, power struggles, and malicious gossip. The wounds inflicted by incivility go way beyond the damage performed in most consensual dungeon play. And the emotional scarring that incivility leaves on its victims lasts longer than any bruise.
guess that the worst of this behavior comes from scene novices, but you
would be wrong. Beginners, usually eager to fit in and make friends, generally
deport themselves well. Oddly, the worst of this behavior comes from people
who have been in the scene for years. People with experience, with play
partners, with contacts, are often the most judgmental, least generous,
quickest to take offense, readiest to slander others. Over and over we
have seen friendly newcomers arrive in the scene, become avid pupils of
our craft, grow into competent players, then unexpectedly mutate into
arrogance, self-importance, and interpersonal ruthlessness. Many of these
perpetrators are later driven from the community in bitterness or disgrace.
Or drive others away themselves.